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Head in the clouds: Re-imagining the experimental laboratory record for the web-based networked world

Abstract

The means we use to record the process of carrying out research remains tied to the concept of a paginated paper notebook despite the advances over the past decade in web based communication and publication tools. The development of these tools offers an opportunity to re-imagine what the laboratory record would look like if it were re-built in a web-native form. In this paper I describe a distributed approach to the laboratory record based which uses the most appropriate tool available to house and publish each specific object created during the research process, whether they be a physical sample, a digital data object, or the record of how one was created from another. I propose that the web-native laboratory record would act as a feed of relationships between these items. This approach can be seen as complementary to, rather than competitive with, integrative approaches that aim to aggregate relevant objects together to describe knowledge. The potential for the recent announcement of the Google Wave protocol to have a significant impact on realizing this vision is discussed along with the issues of security and provenance that are raised by such an approach.